Sunday, May 10, 2015

Manners

I had it wrong the first time.

Pak Yudi was still parking his car, so it’s just Bu Nana and I who went to meet them at the hotel lobby. With introductions out of the way, we start heading to Sate Khas Senayan. It occured to me, that maybe I should ready the table for them, just in case the place is full? It is Friday night after all, and as it is, Jakarta has too many people. So I bade my leave awkwardly.

To find that my initiative was practically useless: only a third of the tables were occupied. I easily spotted a table of six that would be good for the five of us, and waiting, fidgeting, thinking that I had it wrong the first time. If I had just stayed, building rapport with them would have been easier with small talks.
I had it wrong the second time.

After what seemed to be an eternity of fidgeting, wondering if I had looked like an idiot, bolting at meeting new people, they arrived. There I entered a second minefield: deciding what to eat.

At this rate, I will never be a vegan. I have resigned to the fact that in a social setting where people order dishes to share, it will invariably involve meat dishes. That alone is no problem at all, but them not finishing it is a problem. Between the two worldviews, I think that not finishing up the dishes once they are on the table is a grave sin. It reeks of decadence, glutton, and arrogance. And I have an automatic mental picture of starving children with dagger stares, judging me for not doing my part to finish the food that my dinner company had ordered.

So with the taxing mental gymnastics of reconciling the two opposing worldviews, it was very hard to engage with the conversations. And what do they do, actually? It dawned on me that if I had just used my fidgeting time to google my dinner companion, I would know them better and can contribute in meaningful conversations.

I had it wrong the third time.

Bu Nana said that for her, I was one of those students their teachers always brag about. So when they asked me what was I studying, it was very easy to say that I took astronomy. Which turned out to create many head-scratching (to me) when the conversation moved to an initiative in the US to run a “Science Truck” to remote area, one of them remarked that the trucks can be very easily be staffed “With bright young undergraduates—like you!”

So it was with many awkwardness (to me) and many head-scratching (to them) when we exhanged business cards and I tried to explain my current workplace to them. UH—so you see, my office is at the university… I fumbled. Had I just explain in the beginning that I have graduated, would my explanation be smoother because it would be on my term?

I had it wrong the fourth time.

With determination that I will take part in the meal, I found that I couldn’t refuse Bu Nana’s offer for a food transfer. From her plate. To mine. It was fine when we’re in conversation stage: the food weren’t there yet so it was an easy jest where I play an equaly easy stereotype that will finish off any food on the table. The actual material transfer was a hundred times more awkward, and all the time I wondered about their judgement of me. Contributing very little on conversations, gorging on food. But it’s a shame to leave food go to waste! Oh hell, I’ll just eat it anyway. The road from Salemba to Senayan was packed, the traffic jammed, and I had been hungry—I had good justification for it.

Christ, social dinners are hard.

And still I had it wrong the fifth time.

Between the meal, the general education talk, and the preparation for tomorrow, I ended up with a task for a flash shopping for the morrow’s science teaching workshop. I assured myself that there’s a stationary store a floor below where I can get some of the materials. I waited too long, though. We finished dining at half past nine, and I was dismayed to find that the stationary store had closed for the day. So I half-run to a nearby Ratu Plaza, half-praying to the gods of commerce that the Lotte Mart there hadn’t closed yet.

It hadn’t, so I made quick runs to grab food colorings, detergent, plastic plates, apples, and scissors. A lighter wallet and an armload of groceries later, I went back home with tired feet. Certain I have missed several items.

I found out that I have missed certain items, and I cursed myself for not asking more clearly about the items. It shouldn’t have been powdered detergent—liquid detergent was what was needed. Had I asked for more details, I could’ve avoided buying the wrong stuff.

Yet I had it wrong the final time.

With all the awkwardness and the haphazard preparation and the early weekend time, I had thought I will be drained. Oh, fine, I am physically exhausted. I just had an extra four-hour morning nap on a clear sunny Sunday with little else planned for the remainder of the day.

But I also came out of it energized. The teachers were (largely) enthusiastic. They were engaged. I helped reducing the language barrier between the Singaporean instructors with the teachers. I learned about surface tension and eddy currents and root pressure and conservation of energy and supermagnets! It felt awfully good to be hopeful that their classroom instructions will be more alive.

It was a weekend well spent.
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Other people's take on the day's event:
Prof. Lim's blog: http://blog.science.edu.sg/index.php/2015/05/a-mission-driven-experience/
Bu Nana's blog: http://alsnstars.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/mendampingi-guru/

3 comments:

iis le Reveur said...

How are they? Bu Nana and Pak Yudi?

Masyhur Hilmy said...

They looked very energized--despite them working hard for this event and more. Did you know that she also blogs? Her blog is https://alsnstars.wordpress.com/

iis le Reveur said...

yes. just talked to her. been a long time. feel bad I never ask about her doing.
but as always, she inspires me more and more. always the cheerful Bu Nana